Non-media gift ideas from CMCH

When choosing gifts for the children in your life, focus on the CHILD: 

Creativity: Think creatively about who the child is & customize your gift.

Homework: Do your homework to make sure the gift matches the child.

Imagination: Stimulate their imagination with gifts they can use creatively.

Learning: Encourage learning with gifts that peak their curiosity.

Donate: Teach about giving by helping a child make a donation.


Creativity: Think creatively about who the child is and customize your gift. Think about what makes the child truly happy, and match your presents to his or her specific likes, abilities, or hobbies instead of jumping on the current toy trend. Consider the child’s lifestyle. Does he or she need more movement or restful time in their life?

Home-made gifts can be incredibly special and tailored to the child. Many online sources help make the process quick and easy.

For Younger Children, consider these ideas

  • Coloring book—include pictures that relate to their unique interests.
  • Custom T-shirt—feature the child’s artwork or a photo of a favorite place or pet.
  • Themed kit—that builds on their interests (for example, if a child loves being in the kitchen with you, make a restaurant kit with menus, an apron, a pad of paper for taking orders, sample credit cards you get in the mail, a chalk board for writing the day’s specials, poster board for the restaurant’s sign, etc.).
  • Scrapbook—feature masterpieces in the kitchen, and forts or puzzles completed.
  • Relaxing place—designate a spot all his own with a fuzzy beanbag chair, or new pillows and a light for a window seat, loft or cozy corner.
  • Alone time coupon—There’s nothing your child would rather play with than you, make a redeemable couple for an afternoon alone with mom or dad.

For older children and teens, consider these ideas:

  • Redeemable coupon pack—Consider teen favorites like the “sleep-in-late” coupon, then personalize a set to fit your teen.
  • Keychain and gas card, or sunglasses—for the new driver.
  • Journal or diary—commemorating a special event for the teen.
  • Custom T-shirt, blanket or poster—feature their favorite saying, doodle, interest, or place with the photos or words of your choice. If you’re feeling extra-creative you can make a patchwork quilt out of their old t-shirts, favorite blankets or other fabrics that have special meaning.
  • 3D puzzles or brain-teaser games.
  • Tickets to a concert, sporting event, theater or comedy show.
  • Snow shoes or ice-skates—or give coupons to a skating rink.
  • Add to their collection – of figurines, cards, comic books, movies, etc.
  • Money for a college fund.
  • Themed gift baskets (athletics, hobbies, or another personal interest).

back to top

Homework: Do your homework to make sure the gift matches the child.

When purchasing toys or media items as gifts, learn a little bit about them first. Making sure that they’re a good fit for the child is an important part of gift-giving and is easier than it may seem:

  • Read child-focused reviews of games, books, toys, etc
  • Librarians and teachers can offer guidance on books and activities. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has a committee for the Notable Children’s Book list, available here, and the Young Adult Library Services Association has many “best of” and award lists, including Best Books for Young Adults, available here (free sign-up required if you are not a member of YALSA).
  • Ask, is the toy or game safe, age-appropriate, long-lasting (consider both durability and the ability to hold child’s interest), enjoyable, and affordable? Does it contribute to the child’s educational, social and physical development?

back to top

Imagination: Stimulate their imagination with gifts they can use creatively.

Consider gifts that leave room for open-ended play.

Ideas for younger children:

  • Hot chocolate stand (warm chocolate advised)
  • Camping gear (have a camp out in the family room).
  • Adopt an animal at the zoo
  • Adopt a tree (name it, photograph it, and celebrate its birthday)
  • Dress-up bin filled with old clothes and costume jewelry
  • Puppet theater
  • Doll or stuffed animal
  • Building blocks
  • Sandbox
  • Crayons and construction paper
  • Window sill garden supplies

Ideas for older children and teens:

  • Pet
  • Host a teen and friends for a group adventure
  • High-quality art supplies or crafting materials
  • Music, dance, or art lessons
  • Musical instruments
  • Family cooking lesson
  • Lawn games (bocce ball, croquet, bean bag toss, horseshoes, volleyball, etc.)

back to top


Learning: Encourage learning with gifts that offer them ways to explore their world.

Think about what you’d like them to learn, and choose related gifts.

  • Board games, to practice taking turns and thinking strategically
  • Puzzles, to teach collaboration and help exercise their attention span
  • Science kits and tools, to nurture interest in the natural world, give an ant farm aquarium, night vision binoculars, a butterfly net, and more
  • Group lessons, to build particular interests, talents and social skills
  • Bicycle, tricycle, or unicycle, to encourage outdoor exploration
  • Sports equipment, to encourage teamwork and fitness
  • Family trips, if even just for a day, to open up new worlds, take a family trip somewhere new
  • Cooking supplies, to inspire family connections in the “family kitchen”

back to top


Teach about giving by helping your child make a donation.

This holiday season, involve children in giving to others:

  • Help them choose toys and books to donate to children in need.
  • Let them to choose a charity or non-profitto support using a cash gift from you. Some organizations, like Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, and UNICEF, offer families the chance to get a little gift for the child (like a card with a picture of the animal given to a family in need) or outings and learning opportunities to make the experience more memorable and meaningful.
  • Have your family volunteer time together.
  • Take a child shopping for groceries to bring to a food pantry.


>>See ideas for free gifts
See tips on how to choose media-related gifts





Related Links:

Media Shopping Guide from CMCH for 2012

What's the bottom line on how media affect health?

Parents' Homepage

Tips for Parents

Ask the Mediatrician

CMCH Newsletter


Parents' Role: Media Gatekeepers
» Read more

Cell Phones
They're Everywhere!

» Read more

"Lazy kids watch TV": Children's perceptions of media and non-media activities
» Read more

terms of use contact us

300 Longwood Avenue | Boston, MA 02115 | (617) 355-2000 |

© 2004-2008 Center on Media and Child Health, Children's Hospital Boston.

This website designed by AtmosphereBBDO, named 2007 Network of the Year for Creativity by Cannes Lions Advertising Festival